Are you your worst naysayer? A Mindfulness mindset can help.

June 18, 2012

by Leslie Zeigler

We  often talk on this blog site about naysayers  –  you know who they are  –  the  people in your life, either from your past or your present,  who are are ever-so-skilled in delivering that  critical message.   The message  that has the power to be worse than a bee sting in its lingering sting.  It may not matter how confident you are about your  creative endeavor –  this message feels like just the opposite of an encouraging  comment.  It can make you doubt your own talents and abilities.  The person  may even think they are being  helpful  by saying:  “Perhaps you are wasting your time trying to write.  You must know you will never win a Pulitzer.”

Another form this naysaying might take  can be silence about anything you do that is creative –  a complete absence of comment, as if these people had selective amnesia when it comes to your creativity.  Sometimes this type of naysayer style can hurt even more than the overtly negative comment.

But what about the naysayer inside of you? Are you aware that you might be your own worst  naysayer  – the one who has the greatest power to stop you from pursuing your creative dream?  It can occur in a very subtle way  –  a brief occasional   internal message  that you may barely notice, like  “Are you sure you write well enough to keep working on that short story?”   Or perhaps you tell yourself you are wasting your money on those  workshops you are taking  to become  a better writer or classes to become a better painter, photographer,  actor, etc, etc., etc.  Or maybe it is not subtle at all –  maybe it a a loud, repetitive,  internal voice that says  you are really a fraud,  you really should just stop whatever passion you are directing towards your creativity and give up and focus your energy on anything else but being creative.

So what can you do?  First of all, understand that you cannot easily get rid of   this kind of  internal message.  Just trying to order it to stop it does not usually work.  It is rare to meet someone who does not struggle to some degree (the operative words) with self-doubt and harsh self-critical messages.

But there are things you can do.  The first step is to become your own detective of your internal naysayer  messages.  As you do this, begin  to raise your awareness  that the message is negative and just that – an  internal message –  not a fact.

In the book  The Mindful Way through Anxiety, by  Susan M. Orsillo, PhD,  Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, the authors say “The human mind is like a movie theater that never closes -always prepared to show films of what we fear.”

This is a beginning step to take in using mindfulness as  a way to help cope  better  with these understandably upsetting messages.  In my next blog post I will describe Step 2 in using mindfulness.

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The Creativity Blockers

April 6, 2012

You know them. You probably live and work among them. 

If you say to one of them, “My photograph just won an award!” Or, “My poem just got published!” Or, “My film just got accepted into a festival!” they may manage a “How nice.” More likely, their eyes will glaze overand they will start telling you about what THEY did last weekend.

Did You Get Much Money for That?

Or they may say to you, (and this is my personal favorite), “Did you get much money for that?” Please notice the “much” here, because no matter what sum, from 0 to 1,000,000, that you received for your hard work, it is clear that it isn’t much at all, in the creativity blocker’s scale of things. Sometimes they offer comments like, “I don’t know why you work so hard on that (painting, blog, musical).” “How many years have you been doing that?” Or better yet, “Do people still do that?”

Are You Famous?

And of course, we’ve all heard this at parties or events: “Should I have heard of you?” “Are you famous?” Once upon a time, I thought it was all innocence and ignorance.  Maybe they really did think that people no longer wrote books, or painted pictures, or (in my case) wrote operas.  Somehow these things were generated from a Great Computer in the Sky, and descended full blown upon us.

But now I realize that it’s not that, or it’s more than that.  Many people aren’t comfortable around poets, or playwrights, or musicians, because even in this age of YouTube and America’s Got Talent, creative efforts are not perceived as something regular people do. And if you are successful at it: if you make a living, or part of a living, at it, you’re even odder.  Somehow, you’re cheating. You’re taking a step away from the way most people live their lives; you’re going into a back room, or out on the street, or even to the bar around the corner with your band, and creating something brand new in the world.  And if there’s one thing people aren’t really comfortable with, it’s change. (There does seem to be a gadget exception to this rule; everyone loves their new cars and smart phones.  I do wonder, however, how much they’d have to say to the person who designed them?)

No Point. No Time. No Good

It’s discouraging.  We’d all like a little acknowledgement for our efforts.  We’d like the people around us to be thrilled with our success, and sympathetic to the disappointments that line the road to any successful creative effort.  We try hard to get them interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes their disinterest seems like a global rejection.  We’re not just hearing “no” from the people who could open doors for us, we’re hearing it from our friends and colleagues and sometimes even our families. “No point.” “No time.” “No good.”

So what do we do?

We find other people to talk to.  We’re lucky, in 2012, that the world is open to us through the Internet. But we can also seek out other people in our communities, even in our workplaces, whose eyes actually spark with interest instead of dulling with dread when we start talking about what we love to do.

And we don’t try and interest people who we terrify with our love of what we do.  The more you succeed, the more you keep going, the less happy they will be.  The jabs and disinterest might turn to something more hostile.  Ever notice how fast people turn on performers who don’t meet their expectations?  (Just try a half hour of any celebrity reality TV show.)  Deep down, they may not feel really normal people are out there acting and singing and making movies and games.

Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends

We get pretty good at insulating ourselves within circles of friends and fellow creative people as we get older, and find ways to hold some of this at bay. But for those striving to create something in a hostile culture or community or family situation, this can a life-long problem.  And the best solution is finding the people who will support you, even if they are 8,000 miles away and can only IM you at midnight.  Creative people do their best when they can ignore (or go around) the blockers, keep working on their projects,  and get a little help from their friends.

Many thanks to Eric Ember, the Intuitive Edge Photographer in Residence, for his portrait of  Sam suspiciously eyeing Murray, the Intuitive Edge Creative Cat in Residence. And thanks also to Claudia Carlson for the idea.


The Power of “They”

August 16, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Speaking with a very gifted portrait painter recently, I once more encountered the enormous power of “They” among otherwise confident artists.

“They” say no one will ever take my poetry seriously if I use rhyme,” she told me.  She had recently begun spending more time writing poetry, as well as painting.

I asked how she envisioned using or publishing her poems. She said she was going to create a book of paintings, accompanied by her poems, that explored a recent traumatic event in her life that had unexpectedly brought her new freedom and depth in her work.

Now, it is certainly very true that rhyme is not generally held in high esteem in the Academy today, and if she were trying for a professorship or attempting to break into the pages of the New Yorker, neither she nor her rhymes would be unlikely to be greeted with open arms. But she is a talented and successful artist in the field of portrait painting, which is probably about as likely to get her a chair at Harvard as rhyming poetry, and she is very happy in her work. So why was the critical writing “they” so much more powerful than the painting “they” in her mind?

The answer, I think, lies in her taking poetry up seriously later in life. Being new to writing for others (although not for herself), she was more sensitive to the possibility of criticism. A friend telling her that they would have laughed anyone who rhymed out of her poetry class was enough to give her pause.

What I suggested to her was that she was being true to her own gifts and her own way of expressing them, a way that worked for her in her painting. Her rhymed poetry and her realistic painting achieved a consistent and unique personal aesthetic. If she forced herself into free verse forms, she would be abandoning her own view of the world on several levels. And while I am all for this as an occasional exercise – we can all benefit by seeing the wider world through a different lens occasionally – it’s not our primary job as creative people. Our job is to see the world through our own eyes, our once-in-the-history-of-the-universe perspective, and share it with everyone else as best we can. Those who aren’t interested in it, because it is rhymed, or representational, or uses old-fashioned harmonies, or is shot in black and white instead of color, will most likely ignore it, but for the audience who is waiting to find it, it will be just the right thing.


The People Blocks

June 14, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

In a recent email exchange with novelist Andrew Washton, we pondered the dismaying fact that sometimes the biggest obstacles to beginning to live a more creative life are the people around us.

They may actively block us by making fun of our aspirations (“Picking up those drumsticks again at YOUR age? Are you kidding?”) Or they may resent us taking the time away from them and their plans for us.  (“But we were supposed to go visit my mother today! You’ve been working on that screenplay for years; it can wait one more Sunday.”)

Or, most likely of all, they will be completely indifferent to our aspirations and dreams. (“You have a photography show up in the gallery downtown? Oh, sorry I can’t make it this month – it’s just not inconvenient.”) You offer to make it easy for them by sending them the photographs on Flickr; but somehow, they just can’t get interested. Any success you have is met with slightly embarrassed indifference. The family and friends you would think would be your most enthusiastic audience are a great deal less interested in your work than total strangers who wander in off the street.

We can analyze their motives to death. Maybe they feel competition (Mom always liked YOUR finger paintings best.) Maybe they feel envy at the creative energy and involvement that is recharging your life. Maybe the very ideas of creativity, art, or inspiration are alien and uncomfortable to them, and they’re just a lot more comfortable with worrying about who won Celebrity Apprentice this year. Or maybe they’re afraid that your new creative efforts will inevitably pull you away from them.

In this, they may not be entirely wrong. As you pursue the projects and ideas that truly interest and involve you, you’ll find other people who do support your work and the way you are using your time. Some of the strangers who wander in off the street and admire your photographs or your songs or your stories or your paintings will become fans, and even friends. Your Facebook page might start having fellow artists and creatives on it, as well as your cousins in Minnesota and your old high school buddies.

The people you see on Thanksgiving may never care about your next exhibit or your new book, but, as time goes on, other people will. And you’ll learn how to admire pictures of the new baby or gas grill without expecting appreciation of your creative life from people who, for many reasons, have no appreciation to give.

Although you may notice, as the outside world begins to pay more attention, that interest on the home front will also pick up, and requests for tickets, free copies, or prints begin to mount. And then it will be up to you to decide just how gracious to be.